I’ve put up a lot of book reviews this week. In Wednesday’s review of Gorilla Mindset I mentioned that it’s not so much that I’ve read a lot recently as that I’ve finished a lot all at once. The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the exception.
I started the book earlier this week and finished it very quickly. It was a very fast read for two reasons. First, it’s a young adult book. The language is simple, the story is not overly complex, and it’s an easy read. Second, the book is thoroughly engaging. Once I started it, I didn’t want to put it down.
I’m not a particular fan of young adult books. I have, of course, read my fair share of them – probably hundreds of them. I also graduated past them pretty quickly: I read Tolkien in the fourth grade and Asimov, Herbert, Clancy, and Crichton only a year or two later. Of course, I still devoured a ton of YA books at that age. But even then it wasn’t because I preferred the genre. I simply read whatever I could get my hands on out of sheer boredom.
My young adult reading since high school mostly consists of the Harry Potter series. So you can imagine that I didn’t particularly seek out this series. Furthermore, while I have been interested in reading Ms. Lamplighter’s works for some time, I’ve also eyed them with some trepidation. You see, I know her better as Mrs. John C. Wright, and her husband may well be my favorite still-living-and-writing author. To be fair, I would never expect any author to live up to that. How could they? Yet it still puts an unfair burden on Ms. Lamplighter.
Thankfully, I can report that this work is excellent. The setting and the world borrow very liberally from Harry Potter. If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s, you will enjoy this book. And as you might expect from knowing that and seeing the cover, the book can be somewhat fairly described as “Harry Potter with a girl as the main character.” Some people will be interested in the book purely for that, and that’s fine. If that sounds great to you, skip the rest of my review and just go read the book. It won’t disappoint you.
But the great thing is that the book very quickly establishes itself as far more than that. Not that I’m implying that it’s better than Harry Potter – it isn’t, if I may risk offending Ms. Lamplighter, although it is definitely worthy of Harry Potter. But it’s definitely not just a Harry Potter ripoff that happens to be about a girl. The story involves something akin to our modern world, with a hidden world of magic thriving within it. The witches and wizards of this world send their children to magical boarding schools. Evil wizards attack one of these schools. Sound familiar?
The similarities pretty much end there, however. The story is radically different from any of Ms. Rowling’s. The characters are very different. A danger of writing about thirteen year old girls is that so many of them are just annoying. Rachel, on the other hand, is quite endearing. She’s earnest without being a brown noser, bright without becoming a know-it-all, and feisty without becoming obnoxious. Her friends are just as interesting. I particularly enjoyed Sigfried, the orphan who wants nothing more than to be a valiant knight, and Gaius, the man apart from the group. Yet all of the characters are fun and enjoyable.
I give the book four stars out of five for adults, but I’d give it five out of five if recommending it to a younger reader (which is, in fact, it’s target audience). My oldest son is not yet reading well enough for a book this complex, but in a few years he will be. When he reaches that point, this book will be on his reading list right next to the Narnia and Harry Potter books. If you loved either, but especially if you love the latter, you should take a look at this book.
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